Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Death of Achilles

By Boris Akunin
Start Date: sometime in late December
End Date: 23 January 2011
320 pages (Paperback Edition)
Published 18 April 2006

I have to say, this is totally different from most of the stuff I read. Sure, I like variety, but most of my variety is within YA Fiction. Having said that, this was, quite simply, a great book.

If I had to stick a label on this book, I’d say “Russian Spy Novel”. The thing is, it’s so much more than just a Russian spy novel. The premise is as follows: Erast Fandorin, returning to Russia after a few years in Japan, is appointed Collegiate Assessor and is sent to investigate the death of Russian war hero Sobalev, also known as "the Russian Achilles”. Filled with mystery, action, betrayal, and everything else that makes a good mystery, the first half of the book is completely engrossing.

Halfway through the book, our hero has figured out who the villain is, and he’s about the knock on the door to arrest him when the story suddenly stops and starts over from the villain’s point of view. As infuriating as this was, Akunin executed it superbly, and it was what brought it from a good book to a great book.

What impressed my most was Akunin’s mastery of crafting the characters. When telling from the villain’s point of view, he tells the story so expertly that even though you know that he’s committing these horrendous acts, you’re almost rooting for him – until he starts messing with Fandorin.


Even at the end, however, I wanted him to go off and live on his island with Wanda. Alas, ‘twas not to be. Sigh.


If I had one complaint about The Death of Achilles, it’d have to be all those darn names. I listened to it on audiobook, but I can imagine it’d be even harder to get the names straight when reading. Since it’s set in Russia, everyone has a 3-part Russian name (with far too many syllables in my opinion), and as if this wasn’t enough, sometimes characters are called by their first and middle names, sometimes by their last name, and sometimes by their title. By halfway through the book, I’d find myself randomly running through the characters’ names in my head. For example, Fandorin is sometimes called Erast Petrovich, sometimes Fandorin, and sometimes the Collegiate Assessor (I’m not quite sure what a collegiate assessor actually is, but that’s Fandorin’s title.) Also, the villain who shall continue to remain nameless for the sake of having as few spoilers as possible has several aliases throughout the book in addition to his name. By the end it was pretty easy to keep all the names straight, but toward the beginning you just have to keep listening without knowing who have the people are.

I’d recommend The Death of Achilles to high school and adult readers. The storytelling is fascinating enough to keep younger readers’ attention, but in part II (the villain’s side of the story) there are some mature themes and violence. I even skipped one of the chapters because it didn’t really contribute to the overall storyline and it was simply reaffirming what a horrible person he was. For older readers, however, I’d highly recommend it, especially the audio version- the narrator is great.

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